Aug 19, 2015 | By Alec

Innovation is a key component in the expansion of 3D printing technology, but one group of Tennessee researchers is again reminding us that it can also be applied to and combined with other forms of highly innovative technologies. That is exactly what the researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are doing; they have developed a flashy 3D printed home and car with a progressive energy unit that enables owners to use their home (solar) to power their car, and the other way around (with natural gas).

This truly innovative project is being masterminded in collaboration with Clayton Homes and architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, though more than twenty other companies are also involved in one way or another. The goal is to develop the efficient energy home of the future, and 3D printing is playing a key role in that. For as different energy sources are more available or cheaper at certain times in the year (an even in the week), why not develop an engine that can use multiple energy sources? ‘We are going both ways with power. We can take solar energy and charge the battery on this vehicle or we can take this small natural gas powered engine and power the building,’ ORNL Research and Development Engineer Scott Curran explained to reporters.

And indeed, the control system in this 3D printed setup is key to the project’s success, as Johney Green Jr., the Director of the Energy and Transportation Science department explained. ‘When should the car be powering the house? When should the house be powering the car? We are looking at bi-wireless charging in the vehicle which is really innovative. It's just a very innovative control system,’ he explained. The solution is a 3.2 kW solar photovoltaic system, complete with low-cost vacuum insulated panels. This system will enable efficient use of excess energy and optimizes the flow of it in both direction, depending on what is necessary.

So what does 3D printing have to do with this project? Well, in part it allows for a complete package of an innovative home and vehicle, but it also simply enables researchers to optimally design both the car and the house to suit the energy availability. The car, therefore, is what is called a Printed Utility Vehicle or PUV, somewhat resembling a beach buggy.

And to design both, the ORNL researchers have been relying on a large scale BAAM 3D printer, which is a high speed, high volume machine capable of turning out 100 pounds of plastic per hour. Its building space is also a massive 20′ X 12′ X 6′. ORNL Associate Research Staff Member Brian Post told reporters that the machine has already been working almost continuously to finish this project. ‘We have put about 25 to 30,000 pounds of plastic through our machine this month, which is something that we have not totaled up to in our entire two years we have been building these parts,’ he revealed. The home itself is obviously being 3D printed in separate sections.

So when will we be able to leave in this futuristic setting? While that will take several years, the team is hoping that this prototype home will be finished on time for display at the ORNL’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Industry Day. It is open to visitors at the laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on September 23, 2015.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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